Nothing about the Varsity?
Atlanta Final Four Visitor's Guide
For those of you lucky enough to be coming down to Atlanta for the weekend, I present to you my quick-ish (okay maybe not really) guide to the city. Some things to take into consideration while reading and evaluating my suggestions: I’m approaching 30 and have been in Atlanta since 2001 (born and raised in Birmingham, MI prior to that); I’ve lived in a lot of areas of this city and have settled down in the Inman Park/Old 4th Ward area, which is a couple of miles east of downtown; I eat out quite a bit, go to a lot of bars, and see a lot of live music (mostly electronic as of late). I’ll try to include options that I think anyone can enjoy, but I do have a section at the end for the under 30 crowd looking to go out.
As a companion to what’s below, please make use of the google map that I’ve created. Everything mentioned below, plus some additional spots, are pinned on the map. Sections of town are also outlined to help you figure things out. On the left hand side of the map, everything is organized by neighborhood and then alphabetical order within each neighborhood.
Before I get started on everything, a note on transportation: Atlanta’s public transit is MARTA, and while it’s not all that great, you can make it work for you. There is a MARTA stop at the Airport and the Georgia Dome, so if you stay near a MARTA train station, you can make it through the weekend without needing a car. That said, this is a city built for cars, and most of the places are exponentially easier to reach by car than by MARTA.
I’ll start with the three main areas of Atlanta. From south to north these are Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead. It’s about 10 miles between downtown and the northern reaches of Buckhead. I’ll provide some pros and cons of staying in each area and things to do during the day and at night.
This is where the game is going to be played and all of the official festivities are going to be. The Dome, Philips Arena, The Georgia World Congress Center, CNN Center, and Centennial Olympic Park are all adjacent. There are plenty of hotel options in the area. The ones closest to the dome are the Hilton Garden Inn, The Omni, Embassy Suites, and the Glenn. Whether or not anything is available in those, I don’t know. Probably not, but there are still a lot of larger hotels within walking distance like the Westin, the Marriott Marquis, the Hyatt, The W Downtown, etc.
During the day:
Downtown has a few major tourist attractions. You’ve probably heard about the Georgia Aquarium, and the hype is for real. Go check it out - you won’t be disappointed. The World of Coca-Cola is right next door to the Aquarium, but I’ve never been. If you have a couple of hours to kill I’m sure it’s better than nothing, but I don’t think it’s a must-do. These are all located in/around Centennial Olympic Park, which will be hosting some pretty big (free!) concerts all weekend.
A couple miles east of downtown is the King Center. It’s just outside of comfortable walking distance so you can take MARTA or a cab (cab is probably easier if you can get one because even if you take MARTA you still have to walk a bit). Admission to the center is free (so is parking if you're driving). It’s basically just a little museum but you can also tour the home that MLK, Jr. lived in, as well as tour his church, Ebenezer Baptist.
Downtown, unfortunately, is usually pretty dead at night. A lot of people work down there, but not so many live there. There are some decent restaurants and bars but it’s not a place to go out and party. That may change slightly just because there are going to be so many people in town, but don’t get your hopes up for any late night ragers. You’ll have to head a couple of miles north or east for those (see below).
I don’t eat downtown too much, but here are a few good spots I can recommend:
- Legal Seafoods (seafood, obvs. Slightly pricey but worth it if that’s what you’re looking for)
- Der Biergarten (German food, German beer, great atmosphere and setting with outdoor seating)
- Stats (ultimate sports bar – beer taps at your table)
- Park Bar
Do not go to Underground Atlanta. Seriously. It’s garbage. Nobody goes there and there’s nothing to do, despite what you may have heard. Don’t waste your time.
Bottom line: If you want to be within walking distance of all the Final Four activities and aren’t too concerned with being near a lot of nightlife, Downtown is where you’ll want to stay.
Midtown has quite a bit to offer and while it’s not within walking distance of the Georgia Dome, if you stay near one of the MARTA stations (the Midtown station at 10th Street or the Arts Center station at 15th Street), then you will be able to get to there easily without a car. So if you’re looking for a hotel, try to keep it near a MARTA station for the best experience.
These would all be decent options, but the list is by no means exhaustive:
- Hilton Garden Inn Midtown (just opened a couple of months ago)
- Regency Suites Hotel
- W Midtown
- Lowes Hotel
- Renaissance Hotel
During the Day:
Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s version of NYC’s Central Park (it was designed by the same person). Though nowhere near as cool as Central Park, it’s still a great place to walk around, especially if the weather is nice. It offers some nice views. The southeast corner of the park is home to Park Tavern, which is a good place to grab lunch or a drink (even better if it’s raining, because they serve $1 beers). The southeast corner also attaches to the Atlanta BeltLine, which is really just a glorified sidewalk for now but will eventually form a 22-mile loop around the city and include transit to connect disparate parts of the city in a much more efficient manner. Good place for a casual stroll but not much to actually do. At the northwest corner of the park are the Atlanta Botanical Gardens which are great if you’re into that kind of thing.
The High Museum of Art is also located in Midtown and is a very high quality museum, again worth checking out if that’s your style.
There’s way more going on in Midtown at night than compared to Downtown. The center of activity generally tends to be around Crescent Ave, between 11th and 14th streets, where there are a couple of blocks worth of restaurants, bars, and clubs. I’d just walk around and see what looks interesting. If you want to go to a club, though, I will say try something like CosmoLava, which is a little more laid back, before you try Opera, which is a full-on clubby club with exactly the people you’d expect to find at clubs. (Warning: annoying auto-play video on the Opera site, which is absolutely fitting.)
There are a few more spots outside of the specific area mentioned above that I would recommend:
- Cypress Street Pint and Plate
- The Vortex (burgers). There is also a location in Little 5 Points mentioned below.
- Proof and Provision
- Empire State South (for a nicer meal)
The area around 10th and Piedmont is one of the hotspots for the gay community, which is pretty prominent in Atlanta, just FYI.
Bottom line: stay in Midtown if you want to be close to nightlife and have a ton of restaurant options within walking distance. If you’re close to a MARTA station, all the better, because that’ll make getting to the games pretty simple.
To me, Buckhead is overrated. In it’s heyday, it was the place to be, but it’s not like that anymore. It’s the more “upscale” part of town, but it’s not walkable and the types of bars and clubs here are not my scene, so I can’t give you too much to go on. Maybe someone else can fill in the gaps here.
One thing I absolutely have to recommend, though, is Holeman & Finch. Always mentioned in the discussion of best burger in Atlanta - partly due to its exclusivity as only 24 are served each night, starting at 10 p.m., and you have to get there by about 8:30 if you want to get one – it’s also a great bar and restaurant overall. If waiting an hour and half for a burger doesn’t sound appealing, the good news is that on Sundays they serve unlimited burgers for brunch. They usually sell about 200-300 during those brunches. Yes, they are that good. The place is pretty tiny, so you might have to wait, but I don’t think you will be disappointed.
So that’s the basic rundown, which turned out to be quite difficult. Even in that little bit there is so much I haven’t mentioned. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention these places/areas - most of which are going to require a car to get to.
Antico Pizza. Best pizza in the city. Authentic Napoletana style. Walk up, order, go find a seat in the kitchen and watch the guys pump out pizza after pizza as they blast Italian music. After a few minutes, yours will be there, and in another few minutes it’ll be gone. Pick up a bottle of wine or some beer before you go, because it’s BYOB. (Mac’s in Midtown is a good place to grab alcohol, btw.)
SweetWater Brewery. If you like beer, check out their brewery tours which run Wednesday – Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 and Saturday from 2:30 to 4:30. Not the easiest place to get to, but it’s a good time.
Ormsby’s is like your buddy’s ultimate man cave basement. The downstairs area has a bar, pool tables, skee ball, foosball, and even a bocce ball court. It’s become a little over-populated over the last couple of years, but it’s pretty unique and generally a fun time.
The Porter Beer Bar/Little 5 Points. Rated one of the top few beer bars in the US, The Porter’s beer list is ridiculous. Their food is pretty damn good too. The Porter is located in Little 5 Points, which is a more artistic/alternative area of town (tattoos, piercings, hipsters, head shops). If you can get over there and walk around the area, I would encourage you to do so. There are a few other good bars nearby if The Porter isn’t your style: the original location of The Vortex, mentioned above, is here; Brewhouse is a good place to check out if you’re a soccer/footie fan; and Euclid Avenue Yacht Club is a nice hangout for the locals. Wrecking Bar Brewpub is just slightly removed from L5P proper, but another solid choice for food and beer (brewed in-house).
Barcelona Wine Bar/Inman Park. If you are in the mood for tapas, wine, and a great dining atmosphere, check out Barcelona. It will be packed, so you will need to make a reservation. Even though this area of town is a bit removed from Downtown and Midtown, an entire night can be spent walking around to the different bars and restaurants, most of which are way more low-key than Barcelona, but still great (Victory Sandwich Bar, Jack’s Pizza & Wings, and P’Cheen, to name a few).
Kevin Rathbun Steak. Also located in Inman Park/Old 4th Ward, this is the place to go if you want the best steak in the city.
The Highlands is another area where you can spend the night bar hopping and probably find something to suit your tastes. There are a mix of vibes from yuppie-ish and/or brotastic (Hand in Hand, Dark Horse Tavern) to divey (Moe’s & Joe’s, Neighbors). As long as you’re looking to drink, you’ll be fine here.
Decatur is an enclave about 6-7 miles east of Downtown. The good news is that it’s totally accessible via MARTA, so even if you’re staying Downtown, it’s easy to get to and everything worth doing in Decatur is centered around the MARTA station. It’s one of the few well-planned MARTA stations, to be honest. Good bars in Decatur include Brickstore Pub (their beer list is on par with The Porter, which is saying something), Leon’s Full Service (cocktails and food), and Twain’s (pool hall, bar games, good beer selection, including some of their own brews). Fun fact: all three of those places are owned by the same couple. Good restaurants in Decatur include Iberian Pig, Cakes & Ale, and Raging Burrito.
Brunch in Atlanta tends to be a big deal, and there are many places that specialize in brunch fare. To name a few:
- Highland Bakery (Inman Park/Old 4th Ward, near Jack’s and P’Cheen mentioned above)
- West Egg Café (A couple miles west of Midtown, near Ormsby’s mentioned above)
- Einstein’s (Midtown)
- The Flying Biscuit (Candler Park, Midtown, and Buckhead locations)
- Ria’s Bluebird (Grant Park)
Finally, one last section for the students or under 30 crowd looking to go out at night to some of the more local/non-touristy places (even less touristy than what I’ve mentioned above):
Edgewood Ave – all of the places below are within a few blocks of each other and walkable. You probably want to cab it from downtown/midtown to this area. In full disclosure, there are some safety concerns, though I have never personally had any issues at all. It’s also a bit of a mess right now because they are installing a streetcar system so the road is all torn up.
- Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (affectionately known as simply “Church”): Cool bar, usually with some intense games of ping pong going on upstairs. Get drunk, put on a preacher’s robe, and hang out.
- Noni’s: A deli/restaurant by day, it turns into a dance club at night. Usually pretty packed out. DJs tend to play electro/house.
- Sound Table: another restaurant by day, dance club by night.
- Pizzeria Vesuvius: Decent pizza, good vibe. There’s a bookcase at the back of the restaurant. If you pull on it, you’ll find that it’s actually a door to a hidden speakeasy (is that redundant?). Now you’re in the know.
Poncey-Highlands – Just around the corner from the Highlands, there are a few places for late night fun:
- Bookhouse Pub: small, cozy, good crowd and good drinks.
- MJQ: Next door/underneath Bookhouse. Literally underground. Pretty grimy but can be a lot of fun if you just want to drink and dance.
- El Bar: Just up the road from Bookhouse and MJQ, El Bar is located behind/underneath the El Azteca restaurant on Ponce. It’s almost inconceivable that there’s even a club there, but it’s there and it’s pretty awesome IMO. This place is tiny and the crowd does not arrive until after midnight. DJs tend to play more hip-hop/trap music here.
- Clermont Lounge: A true Atlanta experience. I will say no more, lest I spoil the surprise. You can google it if you want, but really you should just go without any expectations. The drunker you are, the better.
East Atlanta: tough to get to without a car, East Atlanta Village (EAV) has a good bar and restaurant scene, including:
- Graveyard Tavern (Pool, DJs)
- Midway Pub (Sports bar with a good patio)
- The Earl (Bar/restaurant with an indie rock music venue in the back)
- 529 (live music pretty much every night)
That’s pretty much it for now. Hopefully you found this useful and informative. Please feel free to ask specific questions in the comments and I will be happy to provide my best input and advice. I’m fully aware that I missed a lot of good spots, so if you’re an Atlanta resident feel free to offer additional suggestions as well. Have fun down here, be safe, and Go Blue!!
The Varsity is great if you like lines and cold fried food.
Halfway decent lineup for a concert at Centennial Olympic Park (Downtown, walking distance to the GA Dome). Includes Zac Brown Band, My Morning Jacket, Sting, Dave Matthews, Luda, Flo Rida, and more!
Did I mentiion it is FREE?
Also, for those who still need a basketball fix, I believe the DII and DIII championship games are at Phillips arena (Downtown as well) on Sunday afternoon (bonue-I think its free as well!)
Full concert lineup.
Blind Pilot is part of the concert series. They are a terrific band out of Portland (I think) that is well-worth checking out.
Unfortunately I'm not going to make it to Atlanta, but this is incredibly generous of you to put together for those who can!
Good stuff, thanks for putting this together. I'm staying just outside your downtown lines on the map, but everything in the Olympic Park area will be walkable.
I went to the World of Coca Cola about 5 years ago, and I remember it being pretty cool.
Can't wait for the weekend!
But how do I get tickets? ><
I worked in Atlanta for two years. They have a World of Beer there and the Taco Macs is a good place to park it and session drink. Its an odd city. I highly recommend the Little Five Points area, known for its botique shopping, Crimial Records and the Vortex. Its the most bohemian area of the town and it is definately the area I would recommend for Ann Arborites.
There is a huge asian population about 20 miles north of the city center where you can find any number of great Korean, Vietnamese or other yummy cuisine.
Agree with the OP about the Underground.
Yeah, if anyone wants to explore the Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican offerings - all of which are extremely authentic - then just drive north on Buford Hwy for about 10 miles. You'll know when you're there because all of the signs will be in different languages.
Excellent write up 83tilinfinity. This is an incredibly well-rounded guide to the city and is worthy of being frontpaged in IME. I've lived in Atlanta for ten years and this is my favorite time of year in this city. The Final Four in my city with Michigan in it is just flat out awesome. I'll add few bullets to complement your review.
- The Braves have a weekend series versus the Cubs at Turner Field. 7:35 PM Friday and 1:05 Sunday. Doubt anyone will be interested in the Saturday (night) game. Atlanta is loaded with talent this year and Turner field is a great ballpark. Cubs fans tend to take the place over when they play in Atlanta.
- As mentioned above there is a three-day free concert series at Centennial Olympic Park with an impressive line up including My Morning Jacket & Zac Brown (Friday), Ludacris, Flo Rida and Muse (Saturday), Sting and Dave Matthews Band (Sunday). One local gem in this lineup is Yacht Rock Revue, who appear to be the first act for the Saturday show. Best cover band you will ever see and entirely worth your while. If you are downtown Saturday around noon definitely make it a point to go see YRR.
- World of Coke and the Aquarium are both fun, but I would highly recommend getting away from Downtown, especially at night, and spend some time in Inman Park, Virginia Highlands and Buckhead.
- Lots of great, low-key, restaurants in Inman Park, most of which are listed above. Get dinner here on Friday night and then jump in cab to either Little 5 Points or Virginia Highlands (aka The Highlands). 10 High (small bar/music venue) underneath Dark Horse Tavern is home to Metalsome Karaoke, which is karaoke with a (very good) live rock band with a huge repertoire of rock songs. Not at all your bouncing-ball karaoke. More like being the lead singer of a legtimate band for 5 minutes.
- Murphy's and Rosebud are excellent brunch spots also in the Highlands.
- Strip Clubs: The Cheetah on Spring Street in Midtown is enormous and has lots of quality women, but I recommend making the short drive up Buford Highway to The Pink Pony. Smaller and a little trashier but better quality. The Pony is just a better party, Cheetah can be pretty stale.
- If you're really feeling froggy I believe UGA's spring game is on Saturday. Athens is about 1.5 hours from Atlanta so you'd be hard-pressed to make it back in time for the Louisville/WSU game. But if you want to see Sanford stadium this is cheap opportunity to do that.
- My vote for best steak in town is at Hal's in Buckhead. The Hal's (french cut) Ribeye will change your life.
- For the under 30 crowd looking to rage, Buckhead is where you want to be. Buckhead has an accurate reputation for being frat-tastic, but if blacking out and hooking up is at the top of your agenda look no further. Grab some pre-game grub at Tin Lizzy's or The Big Ketch. Avoid One Star Ranch. There are about 10 bars around Roswell Road and Irby Ave that should be packed to the gills on Friday and Saturday. All of them will have pretty much the same crowd (think lots of 22-28 year old SEC co-eds). Atlanta is to the SEC what Chicago is to the Big Ten. Fives Paces Inn, Pool Hall, The Lost Dog, Red Door, Buckhead Saloon, Churchills, East Andrews, just to name a few. Fado Irish Pub is a little less wild, but is on the other side of Peachtree and about a 5-7 minute walk from the Roswell bars. The Ivy is about a mile north up Roswell (3 minute cab, but not really walkable) and never fails. Johnny's Hideaway is a bizarre and fun spot, but has become more popular in recent years and will probably have really long lines. Keep your drinks off the dance floor.
- MARTA generally sucks for getting around town, but is excellent for transporation to the Georgia Dome. And Decatur which is a cool part of town. Leon's, Iberian Pig and the Brickstore are all great.
- Please don't use the word "hotlanta".
- Have fun. Go Blue. Beat Syracuse!
Thanks for filling in the gaps, especially with respect to Buckhead. I know I am overly harsh about that area of town, but for people here for one or two nights, it's probably not a bad place to be at all.
I'm in total agreement about your advice on the strip clubs. Pony > Cheetah, despite it being less convenient to get to. And your second to last point is critical.
Recommending strip clubs and no mention of the Clairmont Lounge? For shame!
Any cheap hotel suggestions close to a MARTA station that gets me downtown? Seems like most students are staying at the Quality Inn on the south side of the airport cause it's cheap, but I'm just wondering if there's anything better out there at other parts of town that are still easy to get to downtown from.
Hate to say it but there probably is not much available that's under $100 (or even $200) and within walking distance to a MARTA station. Staying by the airport is not something I would recommend normally, but if you're on a tight budget, it wouldn't be the worst thing ever in this case. If you wanted to get to downtown/midtown from there, the cheapest way would be to get a short cab ride to the nearest MARTA station ($5-$10) and then take MARTA into the city ($2.50 flate rate each way).
Be aware, though, MARTA only runs until 1 a.m. so if you're out later than that you're looking at a $30-$40 cab ride back down to any hotel near the airport.
Any suggestions for great BBQ?
Community Q and Fox Bros are the best BBQ in town. The best stuff is outside the perimeter. Fat Matt's is a popular place but the food just isn't good. If someone tells you to go there they have bad taste in BBQ. The only good reason to eat at Fat Matt's is if you decide to do the Saturday brewery tour at Sweetwater Brewery because they are in the same part of town. 83tilinfinity mentioned Sweetwater in his breakdown. Great way to spend a couple hours. $10 gets you admission to the brewery, a pint glass, and 5 tickets to fill it with their various beers. Get there around 2:00 Saturday because the lines can be long on a nice day. One of the best deals in town.
Community Q is my favorite. Only left it off because it's pretty far out of the way. Fox Bros. is another great suggestion, and that's a little closer (in the general area of Little 5 Points). A couple more I'll add for kicks: Daddy D'z, which is the closest to downtown, and Bone Lick over on the west side.
My kids are growing up there, too!
I'm going in just for Monday (assuming all goes well Saturday). I'll be staying downtown.
Where will all the Michigan folks be celebrating during the day and after work prior to the game?
The Atlanta alumni club recommends Whitehall Tavern and Pepperoni's, neither of which are near downtown.
Edit: found this on the final four website?
Gibney’s Pub -- Michigan
231 Peachtree Center Avenue Northeast
Atlanta, Ga. 30303
Dishing out drinks and American pub fare since 1997, Gibney’s is the local neighborhood bar in Downtown Atlanta. Our Keno, pool tables, shuffleboard, jukebox, and multiple video games make Gibney’s the perfect place to grab a cold one (or two or three) and relax. Our famous Chili Frito Pie and New York thin crust pizza will have you coming back again and again!
Thanks very much for the post -- a big help!
I am coming into ATL for the first time...do you have advice on strategy to come into town for the game? I'm a first-timer to ATL and, to use hotel points, we're currently planning on staying out in Suwanee for Saturday night. Not as fun as I'd hoped but hey, "free."
Is the MARTA a good idea to be able to park easily / outside of downtown to get out of game traffic? I'm thinking maybe of driving in to, say, Decatur to park there, take the MARTA to the game and back out to get out of the traffic...and, more importantly, maybe get a drink or two somewhere interesting before we get back out on the road late. Would that plan work or am I overthinking this and should just drive straight to the dome?
Thanks again for the thread, and Go Blue!
I like the idea of driving from Suwanee to a MARTA station and then taking MARTA into the game. Traffic is going to be incredibly awful downtown and you're already driving a long way from Suwanee.
The only issue is that MARTA doesn't run past 1 a.m. so you'd have to get back to the station where your car is parked by that time. Since M is the late game that basically means you would need to leave the dome and hop on MARTA pretty soon after the game ends and do your celebrating once you got off the train (i.e. away from the dome). In that respect, I actually think your plan of parking in Decatur and using that MARTA is a pretty great idea because there is plenty to do around the Decatur MARTA station. You'd leave the game, get back to Decatur and could then hang out there for as long as you wanted before you drove back to Suwanee.
The MARTA station in Decatur does not have a dedicated parking lot, so you'd have to park in a flat lot nearby ($5 probably). Here is the lot I always park at when I go to Decatur. Right next to the MARTA station and all of the bars and restaurants you want to check out (go to Brickstore!). You shouldn't have any problem getting a spot there if you got there in the afternoon.
Another added benefit is that the Dome stop and the Decatur stop are both on the East/West line, so you don't have to transfer at all. Super easy.
So I guess that's a long-winded way of saying yes, your plan makes sense.
Excellent -- thanks again for all the info, I was really worried I was overthinking things (I'm in NYC, usually we just default to public transportation, but they're not always so reliable as I'm used to).
But yea, I was thinking we'd get out of the Dome area and do some celebrating/cheering-up somewhere "real" and not just downtown.
Not to pepper you with too many questions, but a friend just reecommended we park/MARTA from the Lenox stop in Buckhead for our plan (and not Decatur). Would that one also work, google map makes it look like a bit of an easier drive -- your post makes me think Decatur is more awesome, though. Note that I'm 36 so we won't be staying out nearly as late as you young guys, anyway. haha. Great point on the MARTA closing time, but it sounds like that should still work.
And, good news for me, I looked at hotels again and we were able to move in closer than Suwanee, now staying in...Norcross. Hey, its progress.
Thanks again for helping with all the ATL knowledge -- go blue!
No problem. Lenox would be an easier drive from Suwanee and it would work just fine if that's what you waned to do. The upside of Buckhead is that it's going to a bit busier and more of a party vibe/extension of the Final Four. Probably a ton of fellow M fans. The downsides are that 1) you have to transfer from the East/West line to the North/South line to get to/from the Dome (it's not a huge deal but just one more thing to delay you) and 2) after you got back, you would have to get in your car and then drive from the MARTA station to the part of Buckhead where everyone will be partying. In Decatur, it will be a little more low-key and a local feel, but it's all already right there around the MARTA station. The thing is...Michigan is going to win and we're all going to be happy no matter what.
Makes total sense -- though, I wish I shared your confidence in the game (fingers crossed you're dead-on with that one). We'll be yelling loud for a win, that I can tell ya. Thanks again!